Developing Entirely New Ways to Generate, Store, and Use Energy

Dr. Julian Norato
Dr. Julian Norato

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. In 2019, ARPA-E announced an ongoing funding opportunity for a range of the most innovative and unconventional ideas across the energy technology spectrum, exploring high-risk R&D that could lead to the development of disruptive technologies. The topics explored under this opportunity are not part of existing ARPA-E programs, but if successful could establish new program areas for ARPA-E to further explore.

Dr. Julian Norato has been selected as a recipient of ARPA-E’s Topology Optimization and Additive Manufacturing for Performance Enhancement of High Temperature and High Pressure Heat Exchangers (Topology) funding. He was generous to answer a few questions for IMS News.

Talk a bit about your specific project and its potential effects in materials science and possible real-world implications.
In our project we will use a computational design technique called topology optimization to design heat exchangers that operate at high temperature and high pressure. As their name indicates, heat exchangers are mechanical devices that transfer heat, typically from one fluid to another. They are used in a wide range of applications, including aircraft, power stations and chemical processing plants.

High-temperature, high-pressure heat exchangers can substantially increase heat transfer efficiency and reduce the size and weight of the heat exchangers. In this project, we consider counterflow plate heat exchangers, in which the cold and hot fluids flow in between alternate parallel plates and in opposite directions. The plates have flow structures (such as fins) that increase turbulence in the flow and improve mixing, which in turn improves the heat transfer rate.

The computational topology optimization techniques that will be advanced by this project will find highly optimal designs of these fin structures to maximize the heat transfer efficiency while guaranteeing the structural integrity of the plates at the high operating temperatures. The designs obtained by this project will be additively manufactured and tested by Michigan State University’s (MSU) Scalable and Expeditious Additive Manufacturing (SEAM) process, which can efficiently 3D-print parts that are fully dense and free of residual stresses. These characteristics substantially increase the strength of the 3D-printed metal plates at high temperatures.

The topology optimization framework will be coupled with the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and finite element analysis (FEA) solvers by Altair Engineering, the leading vendor in topology optimization software and one of the leading makers of simulation tools.

What was your reaction to finding out your research had been selected for funding?
I was thrilled to hear of the news and grateful for the opportunity given to us by ARPA-E to pursue this exciting work.

Are you working with a team? Students? If so, how will the team assist in the research?
The team that won the award is formed by UConn, MSU and Altair Engineering. UConn is the lead institution. UConn will conduct the research on the topology optimization techniques. MSU will optimize the SEAM process to manufacture the plates and will build and test functional prototypes of the heat exchangers.

What is your hope for the outcome of the research?
We hope that the computational design techniques advanced by this project lead to heat exchanger designs with improved efficiency and reduced size, which could ultimately result in significant energy savings in applications of heat exchangers